Khal Nayak

Khal Nayak poster

Subhash Ghai’s Khalnayak is a fairly predictable cops and robbers story twined with references to the Ramayana which adds depth and resonance.  There are some excellent performances, stylish visuals and excellent music. But at a shade over 3 hours, the pace is stately to the point of plodding and there is too much emphasis on the meaning, and not quite enough on the drama.

Ram (Jackie Shroff) is assigned a case to bring down a terrorist organisation. Ballu (Sanjay Dutt) is the poster boy for Roshida’s (Pramod Muthu) gang. When Ballu escapes from jail, Ram is accused of neglecting his duty to go spend time with his girlfriend Ganga (Madhuri Dixit). When what looks like every policeman in India is put on Ballus’ trail with no success, Ganga finds a way to infiltrate the gang. She sees that Ballu is not quite as bad as he seems, although he is far from being misunderstood. Eventually the police close in, and Ganga is caught between Ram, duty, and her empathy with Ballu.

Madhuri looks stunning and delivers a strong and engaging characterisation. There is nothing simpering or weak about prison officer Ganga. When she sees an opportunity to help Ram restore his reputation, she asks for his support. Then she does it anyway. When she sees Ballu needs medical help, she just goes and gets a doctor because it is the right thing to do. Madhuri does some wonderful deliberately bad acting when Ganga, having captivated Ballu, joins the gang and goes on the run.

Then in Aaja Sajan Aaja she is simply incandescent as she dances for her Ram. Madhuri was also lucky as Ganga dresses in Indian attire, not the hideous synthetic 80s gear that Ballu wears when he tries to impress.

 

Sanjay Dutt is so very good in some scenes that it makes me angry at how bad he is for much of the film. He adopted a range of bizarre grimaces and physical tics that I think were meant to emphasise the animal side of Ballu, but just made him look ridiculous and clumsy. When he dropped the exaggerated mannerisms and just channelled the emotions, he was compelling and raw. While asserting his ownership of Ganga, Ballu accidentally defends democracy and becomes a Nayak for those people. His awakening to being respected and enjoying that feeling was nicely done, even though there was a lot of literal flag waving to make sure the point didn’t escape unnoticed.

Jackie Shroff is perfectly competent as Ram, and only tries to tear his clothes off once so that was good. For my money Ram is the least interesting character. He knows he is right, everyone knows he is right and he is not averse to using extreme force against Ballu to prove how right he is. While there is an interesting dynamic between hero and villain, there is minimal character development for Ram. A relationship between Ganga and Ballu would be a Very Bad Idea but I thought marrying Ram could be a bit suffocating.

The Ramayana elements were more obvious to me on a recent re-watch than when I first saw it, particularly the twists on that narrative. I couldn’t help but compare this with Mani Ratnam’s Raavanan (which I greatly prefer to the Hindi Raavan). In Raavanan, Ram revealed his darker side and could become as Ravana but Khal Nayak seems to say rather that Ravana has the potential to be Rama. I liked that the question of what makes a hero or a villain was articulated and that this was more than a glorification of Rama. Ganga didn’t sway from her beliefs when she was frightened, and kept her faith in Ram. Ram wanted to believe Ganga but society and the law demanded she was still put to trial. I was annoyed that she had to have her virtue validated by a thief and murderer, a man so despicable in the eyes of the law that he had besmirched her just by his proximity but whose word was still worth more than hers. I know she is Sita and he is Ravana, but still. The film plays with some of the conventions especially around the notion of hero and villain. Ram is also helped by Ballu’s testimony, his reputation restored by the hand of a sinner.

Ghai doesn’t quite go the whole hog but he does use a range of staple masala ingredients and has a lush visual style. Ram and Ballu have bloody fights that crash through walls and take to the treetops. There are long lost childhood friends and dreary paeans to motherhood. There are coincidences, speechifying and tearful reconciliations galore. The evil mastermind Roshida has a nasty disposition and lots of cats who do a fabulous job of reacting to stuff.

Rakhee gets a lot of screen time as Arti, not all of it crying. Neena Gupta makes an impression as the striking Champa. Ramya Krishnan is charismatic as Ballu’s girlfriend Sophia, and also gets both versions of the title song. What a waste to have her in such a small role, but how great to have so many powerful actresses in one film. The female characters are strong and quite distinct, but Subhash Ghai stays firmly within the conventions of 90s masala so none of them break the mould of Ma, the friend, bad girl etc.  Oh, and Anupam Kher does his customary shtick as Pandey the prison warden.

There are interesting observations about the conventions of parenting and filial behaviour. Ganga tries to evoke Ballu’s sentimental side by talking wistfully of how much he must love his Ma and how hard it must be for him to live on the run. He calls Ganga out on trying to manipulate him through sentiment, but he rejects that as unimportant to him. Question – If a villain shouts ‘Ma!’ in his sleep and there is no one to hear it, does he have feelings?

Mind you, when Ballu is beating Ram up because why not, Arti hits Ballu for assaulting Ram, Ballu shoves her so Ram belts him for hitting a Ma, then Ballu fights back and Arti comes back at him to stop him using violence.  A move straight out of the Nirupa Roy Filmi Ma Manual.

The songs are extensions or amplifications of the narrative as well as being beautiful and usually pleasingly melodic.

I am not so fond of that title track, although it does epitomise early 90s style and Ramya Krishnan works that beaded gear for all it’s worth.

Khal Nayak-Fruitbat

I had to pity choreographer Saroj Khan. Between Dutt’s own ‘dance’ style and the outfit given to Ballu in the final song, he looked more like a demented fruitbat. Seeing Ballu and the boys try their seductive dance moves on Ganga was highly amusing. But she choreographed some beautiful dances for Madhuri. I went to see the Temptations Reloaded show up in Sydney last year, and the roof nearly came off when the opening bars of Choli Ke Peeche played.

The first hour of the film could be condensed to around 20 minutes with no great loss, but things get much more interesting once events are set in motion. While it is a visually strong and often darkly dramatic film, the pace suffers from Ghai’s concentration on symbols and stylised elements rather than closely following the emotional arcs of the characters. Very much worth watching, but some patience is required. 3 ½ stars!

Zanjeer (2013)

ZanjeerThere is always a risk in remaking an older film, especially if that film is a classic and starred the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bhaduri, Pran, Om Prakash and Ajit Khan, to name but a few.  So bearing that in mind, there were a couple of approaches I thought the makers of Zanjeer might take.  However rather than keeping the same storyline and characters but updating the film to the present day, or using the original film as ‘inspiration’, Suresh Nair and Apoorva Lakhia seem to have gone instead for a middle of the road approach, keeping a few key scenes and characters but otherwise changing plot points rather randomly.  The confusion in the story is not helped by reducing both the heroine Mala (Priyanka Chopra) and the villain Teja (Prakash Raj) to comic relief, while as the hero, Charan ends up as much less of an angry young man, and more of a petulant and plain  bad-tempered one.  Even worse, director Apoorva Lakhia doesn’t let Charan dance – except for a few basic steps with Sanjay Dutt – until the song over the end credits. Even then the choreography is particularly uninspiring.  However, despite the dog’s breakfast of a story and enough plot holes to swallow the entire cast of thousands, there are a few reasons to watch this film, although I’d recommend waiting for the DVD and the FF button.

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The film starts with a particularly sleazy and unattractive opening song where a scantily clad but heavily begrimed female dancer twists and turns her way through numerous hanging chains in a very S & M inspired look.  Thankfully that’s probably the absolute low point of the film, and there’s really no other option than for it to improve from here – it couldn’t possibly get any worse.  The visuals then switch to a shirtless Charan twisting in bed in the throes of a nightmare, followed by some blatant muscle flexing and posturing, and it’s immediately apparent that subtlety is not a word in Apoorva Lakhia’s vocabulary.  Not that I’m complaining about some blatant over-exposure, but it’s a bit too obvious and cheap for someone who is already an established star with a couple of hit films under their belt.  As if that wasn’t enough, Charan’s opening action scene as ACP Vijay Khanna takes place under the protective gaze of his father Chiranjeevi, and his uncle Pawan Kaylan, as they beam down from posters in the background.  As I said, subtlety is definitely not on the agenda for Zanjeer.

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After his latest contretemps, ACP Vijay Khanna (Charan) is transferred for the umpteenth time for his enthusiasm in subduing the local riff-raff, but this time is moved all the way from Hyderabad to Mumbai, presumably in his superior’s hope that he won’t be able to find his way back.  Meanwhile, Mala, a ditzy and dumb NRI is visiting her FB friend to attend her wedding, this clumsy piece of scriptwriting thus ensuring that Mala knows nothing about India, or Mumbai and in addition knows no-one in the area once her friend heads off on her honeymoon.  By careful and contrived manipulation of events, Mala witnesses a murder, and does at least report it, but from there her character is increasingly less convincing as a modern woman, as she tries to avoid any further involvement with the police or the case.  Sadly, rather than the feisty knife-wielding Mala of the original, this Mala is an overly chirpy drama queen who seems quite oblivious to the cultural differences between Mumbai and New York.  Priyanka is giggly and immature but still looks older than her co-star even though there isn’t much difference in their respective ages.  This may be down to Charan’s youthful good looks, but is more likely due to some heavy make-up for Priyanka.

ZanjeerZanjeer ZanjeerZanjeer 2There is also zero chemistry between the two, and their romance doesn’t so much develop as suddenly materialise in the space of a few glances and a song.  The storyline seems to have called for a romance between the two which had to start by a certain point in the film, and so it did.  No build-up, no justification, just  ‘let there be a relationship between Mala and Vijay’, and boom there it was!

The murder witnessed by Mala leads to exposure of the illegal petrol trade, helped by the revelations of one of the new characters, journalist Jaydev (Atul Kulkarni).  Atul Kulkarni puts in a good performance as the investigative journalist, and revels in a more sensibly drawn character with a defined storyline – something of a rarity here.

Zanjeer

Sanjay Dutt as Sher Khan keeps to the original character as played by Pran, and his world-weary look actually suits the part.  However his every appearance is heralded by incredibly loud and intrusive background music which completely overshadows his performance.  Keeping the character of Sher Khan similar to the original also backfires since the simple ‘crook with a heart of gold’ just doesn’t fit with the other modernised characters, although the scenes between Sher Khan and ACP Vijay are still some of the best in the film.  Or would have been if they’d just stopped with all the loud background music!

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Prakash Raj’s Teja is a bumbling buffoon in an ever more outrageous array of colourful suits and patterned cravats.  In fact one of the high points of the film is waiting to see just how garish and inappropriate his next outfit will be. But turning the unscrupulous and immoral Teja into comic relief just doesn’t work, and Mona Darling’s (Mahie Gill) best efforts with Viagra and other seductive devices fall flat too.  Prakash Raj is, at least initially, suitably oily and effusive, but the dialogue (going by the subtitles) is clichéd and too ridiculous to hold any menace or threat.

Zanjeer

However it’s not all completely terrible.  What does work well in the film are the action sequences, and there are plenty of them.  Charan is effortlessly effective in the fight scenes and his energy lifts the film, particularly since he tends to keep a glum and glowering expression in most of the scenes with dialogue.  There are plenty of the required explosions, chase sequences (through Ganesh Chaturthi imersion celebrations of course) and mass fight scenes.  Charan also did well with the angry glare and volcanic temper of Vijay, but the reasons for his rage are never very well explained despite that being the whole point of the original film.  Worth a DVD watch for Charan and Atul Kulkarni, and to play your own version of ‘spot the worst Prakash Raj outfit’!

Department

Someone needs to take all of Ram Gopal Varma’s gadgets, lock them in the toy box and hide the key. A potentially interesting thriller, Department was swamped by RGV’s ‘rogue’ methodology. My guess is ROGUE stands for Ridiculously Overindulgent Gimmickry Undermines Everything. The nauseating (literally) camerawork and a dearth of story and character development made this a disappointing experience. But there were a few positives including an excellent effort by the wardrobe department and a handful of quite good performances.

Had the gimmick of cameras mounted on actors and props been used with restraint it could have been really striking.  For example, a chase around the Crawford market area – it looked great as the camerawork enhanced the sense of speed and confusion of the pursuit. But it is hard to appreciate someone’s acting when the camera crawls up one nostril and emerges from their ear, or is spinning around the bottom of a tea cup. The background score is what I’ve come to expect from RGV – loud, intrusive and annoying so combine that with the dizzying visuals and it is unpleasant.

The story is a standard of the cop genre: a young, slightly idealistic officer is teamed up with a shady older legend on the force. Sanjay Dutt and Rana Daggubati had a good dynamic between their characters and they played off each other well. Sanjay has a brooding reserve that suited Mahadev’s moral ambiguity, and he was world weary and cynical to the core. Mahadev has his own agenda, which is revealed all too slowly. Shivnarayan was no young ratbag to be easily distracted or lead astray– he was focussed on his career and working towards his goals. But he is realising there are many more shades of grey than he expected. Rana is a competent actor, and he certainly looks right for this role. He seemed more at ease in the second half when the action ramps up.

Mind you some of the dialogue is so stilted no one could make it work. There are great insights along the lines of “A mistake done intentionally is not a mistake”. If only I had been in charge of the Cliche Department, I would have found a much more inspirational desk calendar to pinch quotes from. A subtitle that spelled gangrene ‘gang-grin’ was another highlight.

The underworld aspect is less successful. Sawatya (wildly overacted by Vijay Raaz), and his opposition – a mysterious voice on the phone – are at war. But they didn’t provide adequate tension for the machinations of the plot to make sense or be interesting. Sawatya’s deputy DK (Abhimanyu Singh) is ridiculous, stupid, and not at all convincing. People keep banging on about Abhimanyu Singh’s intensity but I think he is just a really bad actor. Even as a corpse, he hams it up.

Amitabh as Sarjay Rao spent the first half chewing the scenery and the second being enigmatic. It wasn’t the performance I was hoping for although he was an interesting character. Excessive exposition drained the potential drama and made the characters less interesting as they did little thinking for themselves. The police would get news of their target’s whereabouts apparently out of thin air. There is no consistent internal logic, too many contradictions, and the story just doesn’t hold up. RGV seems to think he has discovered the concept of moral ambiguity and the idea is pounded home. It’s clumsy and tedious.

Lakshmi Manchu was quite good as Mahadev’s wife. Satya was from a police family so she had already worked through any moral issues she may have had about her husband’s activities. Shivnarayan’s fiancée, Doctor Bharti (Anjana Sukhani) made less sense. She seemed to have few concerns about her intended being an ‘encounter king’, and no thought about what it might mean to be married to someone who was pissing off gangsters at a rate of knots. Madhu Shalini as Naseer had a potentially interesting role – a female gangster who was as tough as nails. But her motivations weren’t clear or consistent, the relationship with DK was not believable and her acting ranged from terrible to mediocre. However I don’t think anyone would have fared well in the scene where she basically fellated a kulfi as she and DK fantasised about taking over and killing everyone. It was gross.

Nathalia Kaur got a lot of (RGV generated) publicity for her debut. Her assets are obvious and just in case you missed anything that camera gets right in there (the gold undies were unexpected and I am so glad she was wearing them). But for an item girl she lacks sensuality and relies on making what I can only describe as ‘porno face’.  Even with the minimal demands of the choreo, her ‘dancing’ was terrible. I don’t usually have a problem with the skanky item, and appearances by the likes of Mumaith Khan, Malaika Arora Khan, Rambha and others are often a highlight. This made me uncomfortable as between Nathalia’s performance and the dirty old man camera gaze creeping all over her body, it is just nasty.

Luckily someone in wardrobe realised the movie was off the rails and took a bold step that almost saved the day. Nasia and DK form their own gang – we dubbed them the Fashion Gang.

 

They dress really badly, over accessorise and spend too long fussing over their clothes when they should be running away from Rana. Meanwhile Shivnarayan has had an epiphany. He had temporarily lost his mojo once he was out of uniform and in civvies. There was some unfortunate double (acid wash) denim, and a regrettable lurex bandanna incident. But by the second half he had developed a signature style and was teaming jeans and a simple (very snug across the shoulders) linen shirt or a (so tight it looked painted on) polo shirt with minimal accessories – watch, shoes, belt and gun.

 

Classic and classy. He became the Fashion Police! He pursues and kills members of DK’s Fashion Gang – the guy in the green and purple stripy shirt, the guy in the gingham bandanna, the bedraggled beardy man, finally the leaders themselves. So when Sanjay Dutt turned up wearing double acid wash….well. It was riveting. Not enough to make this a film worth seeing, but it did keep me entertained just when I was giving up.

I feel bad for the actors in Department, especially Sanjay Dutt, Rana, Deepak Tijori and Lakshmi Manchu who I think gave solid performances. It’s a shame they have been undermined by RGV’s self indulgent antics and the lack of quality story and dialogue. Honestly I can’t recommend this is worth seeing. Unless you enjoy seeing those Crimes  of Fashion soundly punished!